US president Barack Obama, has said he intends to return to Ireland for a visit but was unable to give a commitment to travel South when he attends the G8 summit in County Fermanagh in June.
A standing invitation was issued to him, his wife Michelle, and their two daughters during discussions with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the annual St Patrick’s Day bilateral meeting in the White House.
Speaking as he emerged from the meeting in the Oval Office, Mr Kenny said the president told him it was “his intention to come back to Ireland” but he could not give a fixed date because of his extremely busy schedule.
Mr Kenny said he looked forward to seeing Mr Obama at the G8 summit which will take place in Fermanagh in June. But, on the question of whether he will travel south at that time it was “hard to get a fix on that” because “his schedule is very complicated at the moment”.
Mr and Mrs Obama paid a one-day visit to Ireland in May 2011, taking in Dublin and the president’s ancestral home of Moneygall. It had been hoped that they would attend events in New Ross, Co Wexford, this June to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the visit of president John F Kennedy.
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s 15-minute meeting, Mr Obama praised the Taoiseach’s leadership during the economic crisis.
“We’re seeing progress in the Irish economy. That’s good for the US economy,” he said.
Asked afterwards if his talking-up of the Irish economy while in the US would annoy people suffering the effects of austerity at home, the Taoiseach said the positive projection is “always tempered with the understanding that people have a very challenging time in Ireland”.
As well as economic issues, both men discussed immigrant reform proposals which would affect some 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US. The Taoiseach said Mr Obama told him the “welcome news” that the issue could be “dealt with in a reasonably short period of time”.
The Taoiseach later urged members of the US congress and senate to back proposed legislation on immigration reform: “It’s of interest and importance not only to families of current immigrants, but to the descendants of those immigrants who helped build and transform America economically, politically, socially,” he said.
Addressing the Friends of Ireland lunch, hosted by the speaker of the house, John Boehner, on Capitol Hill, Mr Kenny said: “To congress who are engaged in such important work, we wish you success. Because, after all, St Patrick in whose honour we gather here today was himself an immigrant.”
The Taoiseach later presented the president with the traditional bowl of shamrock, as well as a unique gift of a leather-bound atlas depicting the Irish famine that was produced by Cork University Press.
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